Happy 25th Anniversary to Hole’s second studio album Live Through This, originally released April 12, 1994.
Famously released one week after Kurt Cobain’s death, Hole’s second album Live Through This has always felt more prescient than anyone had meant it to be. It’s a grunge album to its core, Courtney Love’s furious wail punctuating every track, the band ripping through each song like a punk rock pack of hyenas.
The iconic lineup on Live Through This was too good to last. Kristen Pfaff, the hardcore-influenced bassist recruited by Love and Eric Erlandson, died 2 months after the release, adding another ghost to the album. A less fleeting pairing, Live Through This also contains some of the best collaborations between Love and Erlandson to date.
The cover, with the manic beauty queen and band’s name stylized in a Barbie font, is their warning shot at the alleged contradiction of female rage. The photo by Ellen von Unwerth, a photographer famous for shooting the supermodels of the ‘90s, is forceful and stylish all at once.
Already well-versed in unimaginable trauma, Love’s pain comes into sharper focus on Live Through This. Her unabashed treatment of sexual violence has an eerie, knowing quality. Her intimate understanding of a different kind of misery is what sets Hole apart. Which one of Love’s rock contemporaries could sing about having their child taken away by the Department of Children and Family Services?
Like Hole’s grunge peers, women-fronted rock was having a moment. Liz Phair’s landmark debut Exile In Guyville was released the year before. The Breeders’ Deal sisters had a hit single with “Cannonball.” But the intensity of Love’s anger, articulated unflinchingly, stood out.
It’s difficult to talk about Live Through This and Courtney Love without mentioning her even more famous husband. The opening line of Rolling Stone’s 1994 review of the album implores the reader to, “Forget, just for a moment, everything you’ve heard about Courtney Love for the past three years.” Plagued by rumors of Cobain’s uncredited contribution, and the occasional suggestion that he wrote the entire album, the album has clear Nirvana-esque vibes. But in the years since, it’s become even clearer that this is definitely Love’s album.
The singalong hooks on “Miss World” are a glimpse into the pop polish of their next album, Celebrity Skin (1998). But catchiness aside, Erlandson’s violent guitar, which worked so well on their Kim Gordon produced debut LP Pretty on the Inside (1991), are far from muted. Patty Schemel’s aggressive, guttural drumming is still there, but less raw, compliments of slick ‘90s production.
Live Through This is a heavy album. There’s a new demon lurking behind every corner, and the lyrics are appropriately dark. Sex isn’t talked about with coy allusions, but with blood, piss and vomit. On “Asking For It,” one of several songs about sexual violence, Love spits sleazy excuses, rage rippling through her drawl. The refrain of, “go on, take everything, I want you to,” on “Violet” is a threat, not an invitation. The comparatively upbeat “Rock Star” still has a cry of “you make me sick.”
“Doll Parts,” “Violet,” and “Miss World” all charted and Live Through This was named “Album of the Year” by Spin magazine. The desire to be feared rather than loved had been reserved for men up to this point. The ability to empathize with a deeply flawed woman has always eluded society, and Love’s legacy is a testament to that. But Hole’s incredible success despite this reality is what makes them—and Live Through This—legendary.